Living with Diabetes
November is Diabetes Awareness month. As someone who suffers from type 1 diabetes, I would like to shed some light on how the various types of diabetes differ, and how to know if you have symptoms of diabetes so you can seek treatment. Living with diabetes requires creating a new "normal," but it is possible!
Diabetes is a condition in which blood glucose (blood sugar) levels rise higher than normal. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body is unable to produce insulin, the hormone required to convert sugar, starch, and other food into the energy our bodies need to function. Type 1 diabetes was previously known as juvenile diabetes because it is usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, however can be diagnosed later. For example, I was diagnosed when I was 25.
Type 2 diabetes was formerly called adult-onset diabetes because it occurred in people over 40. Unlike type 1, type 2 diabetics can still produce insulin, however, their bodies are insulin resistant, meaning the amount of insulin they produce is not enough to properly utilize the food they eat. Today, more children have type 2 diabetes than type 1.
Gestational diabetes is a third form of diabetes that temporarily occurs during pregnancy. Usually once the baby is born, gestational diabetes goes away, but women who develop gestational diabetes have a higher risk of developing type 2 later on.
About 30 million people in North America have diabetes, and of those 90% have type 2. Because it is largely correlated with lifestyle factors, making changes to diet and exercise habits can help prevent or even reverse type 2 diabetes.
Knowledge of the amount of carbohydrates in the food we eat, and how those foods can affect our blood sugar, known as the glycemic load, is extremely helpful. It is also important to be mindful of portion sizes when making food choices. The American Diabetes Association has many excellent resources to help with diet-related questions regarding diabetes.
Common symptoms of diabetes include urinating often, feeling thirsty, feeling hungry even though you have eaten, extreme fatigue, blurry vision, slow-healing cuts or bruises, weight loss even though you are eating more (type 1), and tingling, pain or numbness in the hands/feet (type 2). It is important to detect diabetes early and begin treatment to avoid complications, and get you back to feeling your best. Take an online diabetes risk test here, and speak to your doctor if you have any questions.
When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I had several of the symptoms listed above, as well as extremely high blood glucose levels. I worked closely with my general practitioner, my endocrinologist, diabetes educators and dieticians to learn how to administer insulin injections. Within two months of diagnosis, my glucose levels were back in the normal range and I felt like a new person.
Managing my diabetes requires time, careful attention, and money that I would love to spend on other things. The simplest activities like going out for a walk with my son our having dinner with friends require me to know where my blood glucose level stands, what type of foods I'll be eating, how many calories I'll be burning. I need to pack my testing supplies, insulin and emergency snacks. All spontaneity goes out the window when it comes to diabetes.
I recently read the quote, "diabetes is a full-time job that I did not want, did not apply for, and can't quit." This could not be more accurate. Therefore, I urge those at risk of developing type 2 diabetes to do all they can to avoid this diagnosis. Speak to your doctor about any lifestyle changes you could make. Please be careful with your health!